The board of directors of Metra has approved a significant step toward satisfying the U.S. Congress’s 2008 mandate for Positive Train Control system implementation. The $80 million contract with Parsons Transportation Group reflects Metra’s request from the group to develop a “system integrator,” by which various components of an automatic braking system could be woven into one system.
Metra executives stated that after sending out multiple requests for proposals and receiving interest from several companies, Parsons was awarded the contract as it was the sole company bidding to be the prime contractor.
Positive Train Control (PTC) was mandated by the U.S. government in the wake of a fatal train crash in southern California. The system will warn engineers of a dangerous situation, such as speeding, and if preventive action isn’t taken, brakes will be applied automatically. PTC has been characterized as a hybridization of onboard equipment, including radios and computers, the railroad’s home- or back-office computer system containing information on speeds and tracks, wayside equipment such as radios mounted on poles along the tracks, and GPS tracking systems.
“The system integrator will take all those segments and put them together," Chief Engineering Officer Bruce Marcheschi said. “It sounds easy, but they have to do the designing, the testing, the training. They have to map the entire railroad ... every inch has to be mapped."
Estimates for Metra’s share of PTC’s cost implementation have grown steadily since the original 2008 mandate—requires PTC on major freight and commuter railroads by the end of 2015—but officials now believe it will be less than $400 million in capital costs. Operating costs are projected to be about $20 million annually.
According to Metra Government Affairs Officer Sam Smith, Congress has two different bills in the works that could extend that deadline, given the massive amount of track and number of trains on which PTC will need to be installed, tested, vetted, and finally approved for operability in real time.